Rhetorical questions that shouldn’t be

Ever notice how some people often ask rhetorical questions that shouldn’t really be? In other words, they ask a question and then don’t either wait for an answer or care about the answer even when they should. In the English-speaking world, the ubiquitous “How are you?” and subsequent indefference to the anwser is normal behaviour, so nobody pays attention to it – it’s like an automatic handshake protocol for people. But all such questions are not so harmless.

Am I calling you at a bad time?” sounds innocent enough. When the answer hints of “yes, can you call back later?“, the situation should be clear and the call should be over. But no – instead, some people continue with their business, at most saying “well I’ll make it really quick then” and then go on explaining their business. WTF is that supposed to mean? How were they going to put it in the first place then? Agonizingly slowly? (Yes it’s arguable whether one should answer the phone at all if it’s a bad time, but you can’t always avoid it because it might be an emergency.)

Similar automatic questions happen at many stores – if you given them a card and say “debit, please” (or credit), approximately 3 seconds later the cashier will ask “Debit or credit?” Hello? Did I not just answer that? Or, when given a credit-only card, they will also ask “Debit or credit” – the smarter ones will notice the error soon and follow up with a “Oh it’s only a credit-card” but many will still ask “Debit or credit?”. When this happens, I always really want to answer “debit, please” when giving a credit-only card. But that would probably be annoying 🙂

Similar things happen also in more subtle ways; for example, some people are just very egocentric. These people only want to tell – and often exaggerate – how they are doing, what’s been happening to them and how they are under this or that distress or 7th heaven. They usually have learned that it’s polite to ask how the other person is doing and listen politely for a while – and only then start talking about yourself. The problem (or the beauty, depending on your point of view) with this tactic is that it’s usually remarkably easy to tell whether someone is not really listening but just humoring you.

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